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Why golf coaching works

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When I started in the golf business, I knew that I wanted to teach the game. In order to do it at a high level, I shadowed some of the best instructors in golf. This was tremendously beneficial, as I learned that I needed to develop a philosophy that fit me and that I believed in. What made each instructor great was their ability to communicate with the student, and they did so in a clear and concise manner. Each also communicated a clear philosophy in which they deeply believed in.

However, what was always a bit troubling to me was the fact each and every lesson I witnessed took place on the driving range and not on the golf course where the game is played. Every lesson took place on the range, and most were based on what the student thought they needed to work on to get better. While this produced a lot of great looking golf swings, it did not always translate to lower scores, and we ALL ultimately want to shoot lower scores.

With the understanding that our ultimate goal is to shoot lower scores and enjoy the game more, I knew that I needed to teach on the golf course. This was paramount in order to learn exactly how my students played the game of golf. Getting on the golf course allowed me to take a true assessment of their game and learn their strengths and weaknesses. It allowed me to give the student what they actually need to succeed, instead of simply giving them what they thought they needed.

In 2017, I heard a podcast featuring Will Robins who was talking about the same concept and making the distinction between coaching and instruction. I believed in what he was talking about, and what separated a coach from a traditional instructor. It is exactly what I thought all along. I joined Will’s consulting group in 2017, and started to better implement what it meant to be a coach. With Will’s guidance the results I was able to achieve by fully committing to the Coaching Model speak for themselves. Coaching clearly works at all levels, let me tell you why.

It gives the student what they need, not what they want

Traditional golf instruction became so heavily focused on “customer service” and giving the student what they wanted, that it lost sight of the overall result. In order to achieve those great results, I believe in giving my students what they need. A perfect example of this is a personal trainer. Let’s say you have a wedding to go to in 2 months and you need to lose 10 lbs. That trainer is going to get you up early, make you stick to eating healthy, and make you sore after every workout to achieve the desired result. Then at the wedding, you love your personal trainer because you look and feel great. However, if that same trainer lets you dictate what you will eat, what you’ll work on during workouts, and when you’ll come back next, the trainer will fail miserably. In other words he is paid to give you what you NEED, to get you the result you want.

Assess your game on course in a team environment

In order to give my students what they need I must learn about how they play the game. Are they anxious on the first tee? Do they get mad at things they can’t control? Do they think their driver is awful, but had 44 putts? Instead of relying on guessing, I can create a game plan through the on course assessment. I like to do this in a team environment for a few reasons. It helps me simulate pressure and many times students will learn as much from each other as they do from me. It is a win-win for everyone.

Create an improvement plan and define your goals

Based on the game assessment I set up an improvement plan for each student. This allows us to set measurable goals. An example that Will Robins uses is 10 shots in 10 weeks. The goal could be anything really, most importantly it is specific to that student. I always like to set a goal based on score because that is ultimately what we want. Lower scores to make the game more enjoyable. The improvement plan gives us a common goal, it allows me to hold my players accountable, and also allows me to do whatever it takes to get them there. It also allows my players to hold me accountable to achieving their goal, creating a true partnership

Develop your mindset

As an instructor it is easy to stand on a range and tell someone what they are doing wrong. It is easy to say I know it all, because I’m the Pro. However, it is vital I get on the course and play golf with my students. I want them to see me be vulnerable, because I want them to understand like Bob Rotella said, “Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect.” We need to stop searching for the perfect golf swing. News Flash: Nobody Has It!! In other words we need to re-train our mindset, and learn that it is often what we do after a poor shot to recover that really helps us score better.

Map your plan, apply to your game and track performance

So often I see golfers trying to be perfect but they don’t know the REAL stats. All of my students know that PGA Tour players make 99 percent of putts from 3 feet, but they fail to understand that those same PGA Tour players only make 55 percent  from 6 feet. Go back to 10 feet and it drops to 35 percent. Yet time and again I see my students extremely upset after missing a 20 foot putt. The reality is most golfers are more likely to three putt from 20 feet than to make the putt. So I teach my students to simplify the game. I show them how to never make double bogey again by keeping the ball in play, and developing a great short game. When my students start to realize that the real game of golf means getting the ball holed in less shots, it changes their mindset. We use a specific scorecard to track stats that REALLY matter on the golf course and to track performance over time.

Tailor your plan through purposeful practice

When is the last time your instructor showed you exactly how to practice? Coaching is a mix of on course playing sessions and off course purposeful practice sessions. This allows me as coach the time to work on exactly what is wrong my students game. It could be anything, but most importantly it will be exactly what they need based on the playing session. Even more importantly we do both drills and tests to track progress on our practice scorecard. This allows the student to become less dependent on the instructor, and more independent, because they know what they need to do to improve each week.

Golf coaching works because it is focused on all aspects of the game, not simply technique. It teaches the golfer how to score, and how to do so under pressure in a team environment. It is results based rather than creating a “perfect golf swing.”  The concept is simple in nature, but is harder to execute and stay accountable to. For these reasons, I’d challenge you to seek out a golf coach rather than a traditional instructor for your next series of lessons.

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When Matthew began teaching in 2008 at Oakland Hills Country Club, most of his students were asking for him to fix their swing. After fixing golf swings for nearly a decade, he noticed that scores didn’t necessarily improve with the improved golf swing. He knew what his clients really wanted was to shoot lower scores! As most pros know, the key to scoring well isn’t hitting the ball further. It’s learning the REAL game of golf with one simple idea… get the ball in the hole in fewer tries than the other players. Matt started his new philosophy by taking a group of players on the golf course, observing each player’s game and developing a specific improvement plan for them while teaching them how to practice. The results were phenomenal! His players always drop shots off their game, and Matthew guarantees the results! Currently, Matthew is the PGA Head Golf Professional at Chequamegon Bay Golf Club in Ashland, WI. He is also the founder of "Great Data Golf." Born in 2016, Great Data Golf carries the vision of developing programs that make it easier to improve at the game of golf.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. John

    Jan 3, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    Matt is a young professional who loves to teach and his method is not only very effective but very reasonably priced. Although even excellent golfers could
    benefit, he helped me shed beau-coup strokes, and I’m old enough to collect my pension. Yes, I had to put work in, but it was a blast and Matt was a riot to work with.

  2. Patricknorm

    Jan 1, 2019 at 8:20 am

    My coach starts each session for a few minutes on the range watching me go through my bag. We then hit the course to play usually 3 or 4 holes , with the emphasis on strategy and then refining certain aspects. I cannot stress the importance of coaching. You can be foolish and spend wasteful dollars on the shiniest new toy, or you can spend time perfecting your swing flaws. You should be properly fit for the correct equipment, but if you’re a serious golfer, coaching is the best bang for your buck.

  3. stan

    Dec 31, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    Very few golfers will benefit from this kind of teaching because very few are willing to make a commitment to training and practice. Most ‘golfers’ are immature non-athletic c r u d ….. and too stupid to learn and play well. I think this truth is obvious on this gearhead geek forum where ‘love’ is the equipment buzzword.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:18 pm

      So true and the proof is annual equipment model changes to exploit the desperation of incompetent golfers and childish golf club Lovers.

  4. Ed LeBeau

    Dec 31, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    This article is titled, “Why golf coaching works”. It implies that golf coaching is something better than golf instruction. If we define golf instruction as limited to swing technique then I agree. However, there are two factors underlying this matter. First, the player may want and in fact only need to improve their technique and second few instructors are presented with players who demonstrate their technique is adequate but their scoring is deficient.

  5. Paul Mattie

    Dec 31, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    This is the way my coach operates. Unless you do the home work you didn’t progress to the next step. He also had me on course not only where he taught but he also came to my place and spent 3 hours going over my troubles spots . This led to specific changes in club selection and course management.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:23 pm

      And how long did this teaching take, 6 months and several thousand $$$$$ ?
      You could have bought a new set of golf clubs annually and feel good.

  6. Scott Saunders

    Dec 31, 2018 at 11:51 am

    Big takeaway is cost effectiveness. Most golfers considering lessons will balk at on-course fees and opt for range lessons. You’re correct that course controls are the key to lowering scoring. The answer to this would be figuring out how to evaluate each student for their on-course weaknesses so that you can coach these issues on-range or indoors.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:20 pm

      Tangible new golf clubs versus intangible golf lessons…. and the winner is…. 😛

    • Clark Williams

      Jan 2, 2019 at 5:26 pm

      One reason why Matt’s “team approach” works is that he walks with 4 players for 3-9 holes, not every week but every second or third week in a 10 week program. This reduces the individuals cost yet allows Matt to provide individual attention and learn about each player and how they actually play the game. I found it stimulating, educational, cost effective and fun. Especially good for new comers and intermediate players who want to improve and are willing to put in some time.

  7. DS

    Dec 31, 2018 at 11:40 am

    My first ‘Shank’ rating. Not that what you wrote isn’t logical and the way much improvement should happen, but it’s totally unrealistic for the average golfer to afford. When instructors are charging $275+ for a 4 – 9 hole playing lesson, PLUS greens fees, your article is nothing more than a pipe dream.

    Since I called out your pipe dream, here’s mine:
    1) For these lesson factories (I’m looking at you, GolfTec), have a ‘pay for improvement’ arrangement. I’d pay $1k to lower my handicap by 5 strokes. And with GolfTec, they can actually monitor my effort so it’s not like I’m asking to spend 90 minutes in a bay and magically improve by 5 strokes. I’ll put in the work, they put in the expertise, and the results should happen. If they don’t, then they don’t get paid or at least they take a material cut from their fees. I got an email from GolfTec and responded with this idea. I’m sure there’s no surprise that pay for results isn’t anything they’re interested in.

    2) Same hourly rates on the course as at the range. Why is Joe Pro charging $65/hr at the range but essentially $125/hr on the course? Did he suddenly get much smarter when real balls are used? I don’t think so, and this ridiculous price gouging needs to stop. Do you care about growing the game and having students get better, or is this just a way to make a fast couple of hundred bucks on your sucker student’s back?

    3) Stop being so contradictory with each other. Had a great experience in NC for a 3-day school, but they started with ‘so tired of people telling me they need to keep their head down, or they want to stop swinging over the top’. I called them out on it because so many amateurs struggle with both, including me. Their response was to bring up Annika and Stenson and say with a wry smile ‘I think we’d all agree their pretty good’. To which I said – name me another one who swings like that? Crickets. Then I said Furyk is pretty good, as was (is?) Jim Thorpe – are they going to teach those swings? It’s this kind of contradictory BS that leaves amateurs confused.

    No skin in the game, cost, and inconsistent approaches are big issues with how the game is taught today. If you pros don’t change your ways, don’t complain as we watch the game get less and less popular.

    • Matt

      Jan 2, 2019 at 2:32 pm

      DS,
      I would love to learn more about your thoughts on how to improve golfers, adding a ‘skin in the game’ component. Hit me up with a DM in the forums. Strolf or email me matt@truemotionsports.com

    • Clark Williams

      Jan 2, 2019 at 5:18 pm

      Not true, I personally worked with Matt last summer, ten weeks (actually more due to rain outs) significantly less than $500(the cost of a driver). I had a severe back issue that flared up so was unable to practice effectively yet learned a lot about my game. Many at our course who worked with Matt saw significant improvement and more importantly had a better understanding of the game and therefore enjoyed their experience more.

    • A. Commoner

      Jan 3, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      absolutely love your post

  8. Moxley

    Dec 31, 2018 at 4:19 am

    Interesting article.

    I’ve no doubt that there is a place for your style of coaching, but I think it is better suited towards younger, elite golfers. I’m not so sure this is suited to the regular mid/high capper at the golf club who just wants to fix his slice or hit it a few yards further.

    Your assertions about what golfers need starts with the assumption that success is defined as scoring better, but I think for more recreational golfers, success is simply having fun when playing with their mates. What they want is a few quick wins, something that is going to make them a little bit better without taking the fun away (i.e. clubbing down), and something to have fun working on – all of this needs to come at an affordable price, because for most, golf is just a hobby.

    Serious golfers will always need serious golfers, but the objectives won’t always be the same with the average golfer.

  9. wilbur

    Dec 31, 2018 at 12:48 am

    Great article but does the instructor/teacher/mentor help you pick out the best golf clubs for your game. Unless you have the best driver to best putter it’s all futile because the equipment is what counts in the final analysis.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      Bingo!!! The ‘best’ golf clubs will transform your swing and game overnight.

  10. Ryan

    Dec 30, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    Great idea and approach, but I’m sure this type of service is not cheap.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:26 pm

      Yes, not cheap….. and neither are the ‘best’ golf clubs.

  11. Obee

    Dec 30, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    Love this approach.

  12. Tom L

    Dec 30, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    Sounds great but potentially pricey

  13. Michael Deiters

    Dec 30, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Good stuff. All “instruction” should look like this.

  14. 2putttom

    Dec 30, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    instructors I use teach on the course (when applicable) it has been beneficial and rewarding.

  15. dj

    Dec 30, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    I like your idea of a metric that is measurable.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Steve recaps his match with the 2nd assistant and Knudson’s golf weekend

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Steve recaps his match against the 2nd assistant and if he won or lost. Knudson gets asked about a guys golf weekend and if his back will hold up. Knudson tosses his brother under the bus.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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5 men who need to win this week’s Open Championship for their season to be viewed as a success

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The year’s final major championship is upon us, with 156 players ready to battle it out at Royal Portrush for the Claret Jug. The oldest tournament in the sport presents the last opportunity for players to achieve major glory for nine months, and while some players will look back at this year’s majors and view them as a success, others will see them as a missed opportunity.

Here are five players who will tee it up at The Open, needing a win to transform their season, and in doing so, their career.

Adam Scott

Adam Scott has looked revived in 2019 with four top-10 finishes, including a T7 at the U.S. Open and a T8 at the PGA Championship. The Australian hasn’t won since 2016, and at 39-years-old, Scott knows better than anyone that the final narrative over his career comes down to whether or not he can add to his lone major championship victory he achieved at the 2013 Masters.

Speaking following his final round at Pebble Beach last month, Scott stated

“I’m angry; I want to win one of these so badly. I play so much consistent golf. But that’s kind of annoying; I’d almost rather miss every cut and win one tournament for the year if that win was a major.” 

A gut-wrenching finish cost Scott the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham and St. Annes seven years ago, and the 39-year-old has held at least a share of the back-nine lead on Sunday on three occasions at the event since 2012. The Australian’s statement following the U.S. Open says it all; a successful 2019 depends on whether or not he can finally put his Open Championship demons to bed.

Dustin Johnson

With a win in Mexico earlier this year, Dustin Johnson has now made it 11 straight seasons with at least one victory on the PGA Tour. However, Johnson continues to be judged, rightly or wrongly, on his struggles to capture major championships. The 35-year-old remains on one major victory for his career, which is a hugely disappointing total for a player of his talent.

Should the American remain stuck on one major for another nine months following this week’s event, it’s hard to imagine the 35-year-old feeling satisfied. Johnson came to Pebble Beach last month as the prohibitive favorite and failed to fire, but it’s what occurred at the PGA Championship which will leave a sour taste. With Brooks Koepka feeling the heat, Johnson had the opportunity to step up and reverse his major championship fortune, but two bogeys in his final three holes just added to his ‘nearly man’ tag at the most significant events.

A win in Northern Ireland removes both the ‘nearly man’ and ‘one major wonder’ tags, and turns his least successful season, victory wise, into one of his best.

Rory McIlroy

Whatever happens this week at Royal Portrush, Rory McIlroy’s season has been impressive, but it’s missing something big. That something is a win at a major championship, and it’s been missing since 2014. To avoid a five-year drought at the majors, McIlroy must win the 148th Open Championship at home, and with it, claim the greatest victory of his career.

Speaking prior to this week’s tournament, McIlroy stated

“I want to win for me. It’s not about trying to do something in front of friends and family.”

The home-town hero is currently in the midst of one of the greatest ball-striking seasons of all time. But without a win at a major to show for it, there’s undoubtedly going to be frustration and regret in the aftermath. On the flip side, should the Ulsterman triumph this week then it would likely eclipse his double major season success of 2014, and according to the man himself, it would also eclipse anything that he could ever go on to achieve in the game thereafter.

Rickie Fowler

Without getting his hands on a major, the narrative behind Rickie Fowler is not going to change. ‘The best player without a major’ tag has been there for a while now with Fowler – who hasn’t been close to shaking it off in 2019. Victory at the Phoenix Open back in February snapped a 24-month streak without a win on the PGA Tour, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone considering the 30-year-old’s season a success without him finally getting the monkey off his back and entering the winner’s circle at a major.

Justin Rose

Justin Rose turns 39-years-old this year, and each season from now to the house, he will be judged on his success at the majors. With  wins at the U.S. Open and Olympics already achieved in his career, a successful season for the Englishman now depends on whether he can become a multiple major champion.

Talking ahead of his bid to win his first Open Championship, Rose said

“People don’t come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you won the FedEx!’. It’s the US Open, the Olympic gold, the Ryder Cup. I’m 40 next year and yes, the clock is ticking.

I’ve had three top threes in the majors in the last three seasons, with two seconds, so I know I’m right there doing the right things. It’s just a case of making it happen again, because the chances won’t keep coming forever.”

Rose’s sense of urgency may stem from tough losses at the 2017 Masters, 2018 Open Championship and more recently at the 2019 U.S. Open. In Rose’s favor is that the average age of winners of The Open since 2011 is almost five years higher than the average age of those who won the Masters, and over eight years older than those who won the U.S. Open. To elevate his 2019 to elite levels, Rose is relying on victory at Royal Portrush.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Scoring Series Part 2: Pitching

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As I wrote two weeks ago, I consider there to be five basic elements to “scoring range performance”, and I dove into the full swing shorts irons and wedges last week. This week I’m going to address “pitching,” which I define as those shots with your wedges that require much less than a full swing. In my opinion, this is the most difficult part of golf to master, but the good news is that it is within reach of every golfer, as physical strength is pretty much neutralized in this aspect of the game.

Before I get into this, however, please understand that I am writing a weekly article here, and do not for a minute think that I can deliver to you the same level of insight and depth that you can get from any of the great books on the short game that are available. There are some genuine “gurus” out there who have made a living out of writing books and sharing their expertise—Dave Pelz, Stan Utley, et al. One of my favorites from a long time ago is Tom Watson’s “Getting Up and Down.” The point is, if you are committed to improving this part of your game, it will take much more than a few hundred words from a post of mine to get you there.

I will also suggest that there are no short cuts to an effective short game. I know of no other way to become a deadly chipper and pitcher of the ball than to invest the time to learn a sound technique and develop the touch skills that allow you to hits an endless variety of shots of different trajectories, distances and spin rates. As the old saying goes: “If it were easy everyone would do it.” In my opinion, it is mostly short game skills that separate good players from average, and great ones from good. Those greenside magicians we see on TV every week didn’t get there by spending minimal time learning and practicing these shots.

So, with that “disclaimer” set forth, I will share my thoughts on the basic elements of good pitching technique, as I see it.

As with any golf shot, a sound and proper set up is crucial to hitting great pitch shots
consistently. I believe great pitch shots are initiated by a slightly open stance, which allows you
to clear your body through impact and sets up the proper swing path, as I’ll explain later.

Your weight distribution should be favored to your lead foot, the ball should be positioned for the shot you want to hit (low, medium or high) and maybe most importantly, your hands must be positioned so that they are hanging naturally from your shoulders. I firmly believe that great pitch shots cannot be hit if the hands are too close or too far from your body.

The easy way to check this is to release your left hand from the grip, and let it hang naturally, then move the club so that the left hand can take its hold. The clubhead will then determine how far from the ball you should be. To me, that is the ideal position from which to make a good pitch shot.

Second is the club/swing path. I believe the proper path for good pitch shots has the hands moving straight back along a path that is nearly parallel to the target line, and the through swing moving left after impact. This path is set up by the more open stance at address. The gurus write extensively about swing path, and they all seem to pretty much agree on this as a fundamental. Taking the club back too far inside the line is probably more damaging than too far outside, as the latter is really pretty hard to do actually. My observations of recreational golfers indicate that the inside backswing path is “set up” by the ball being too close or too far from their feet at address, as I explained earlier.

I also believe (from observation and experience) that many recreational golfers do not engage their torso enough in routine pitch shots. This is NOT an arm swing; a rotation of the shoulders is tantamount to good pitch shots, and the shoulders must keep rotating through impact. Stopping the rotation at impact is, in my observation, the main cause of chunks and bladed shots, as that causes the clubhead to move past the hands and get out of plane.

Finally, I’ll address swing speed. Again, in my observation, most recreational golfers get too quick with this part of the game. The swing is shorter for these shots, but that should not make it quicker. One of my favorite analogies is to compare golf to a house painter. In the wide-open areas, he uses a sprayer or big roller for power, and works pretty darn quickly. As he begins to cut in for the windows and doors, he chooses a smaller brush and works much more slowly and carefully. Finally, he chooses very specialized trim brushes to paint the window and door trim, baseboards, etc. I like to compare our wedges to the painter’s trim brushes. Slow and careful wins.

I think learning distance control is the hardest part of becoming a good pitcher of the ball. And there are many approaches to this part of the equation. My opinion is that your expectations and therefore your approach to this aspect of it should be commensurate with your willingness to spend the time on the range or course. And I just do not know of a short cut, I’m sorry to say. But I will share something that I’ve learned works pretty well and is reasonably easy to learn.

First, find a “half swing” length that feels comfortable to you, and by that I mean repeatable. For most, it seems to be where the lead arm is about parallel to the ground. From that position, I like to think of three different downswing speeds – country road (i.e. 50 mph), neighborhood driving (30 mph) and school zone (15 mph). We’ll leave freeway speed for the driver, and regular highway speed for our fairways, hybrids and irons.

If you can internalize what these three speeds feel like for you, it only takes a little time to figure out how far each wedge goes at these three speeds, and then you can further dissect this by gripping down on each wedge to cut those gaps even tighter.

Again, I’m limited by space in this blog, but these ideas will hopefully get you thinking about meaningful practice and implementation. And in no way, are these few words intended to cover the subject as thoroughly as Pelz, Utley and others have done in series of books and videos. The more you learn and practice, the better you will get. That’s just the facts.

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